In May, we published a story about how police body cams can be employed in the worst way—for planting evidence, or staging a crime scene. In what was among the first instances of its kind, we revealed that a Colorado cop had staged the body cam footage of the search of a vehicle in which he is seen finding drugs and cash. Pueblo prosecutors dropped the drug charges, and the Pueblo Police Department said it disciplined the officer, as an internal matter. No charges against the officer were lodged.
Now there's word of another such incident in Baltimore, related to video from a January drug arrest. The officer's trickery was revealed by the fact that his body cam, by default, retained footage for 30 seconds before it was activated to begin recording. During that time, according to the footage and the Baltimore public defender's office, officer Richard Pinheiro puts a bag of pills in a can in an alley and walks out of the alley.
The Axon cam's initial 30 seconds of footage, by default, doesn't have sound. After 30 seconds, viewers of the video can both see and hear the officer looking for drugs in the alley. Lo and behold, he finds them in the same soup can that he placed them in, according to the footage, which was released Wednesday. Pinheiro can then be heard yelling "yo" to his fellow officers, telling them he found drugs in the alley.
Smile, you're on camera
The Baltimore Police Department said Wednesday it was investigating the matter, and the three officers seen in the video. The Baltimore public defender's office discovered the incident when reviewing body cam footage while preparing to defend an upcoming drug prosecution.
The footage paved the way for the authorities to drop charges against the drug suspect, who had remained jailed since January on $50,000 bail he could not post. The Baltimore public defender's office said the officer in question is a witness in as many as 53 other active cases, according to the Baltimore Sun.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland said that the officers involved in the alleged drug plant "have single-handedly destroyed the credibility of every piece of video where the BPD officers find contraband."
According to Baltimore police policy, deputies are required to turn on their body cams during confrontations and "at the initiation of a call for service or other activity or encounter that is investigative or enforcement-related in nature."
Body cams are flourishing in police departments across the US in the wake of some high-profile shootings. The surveillance devices are intended to protect the integrity of the police, and to provide public accountability. That said, like the Pueblo incident, the Baltimore episode underscores that the cams are not a panacea. While cameras can be critical evidence in revealing the truth, they can also be manipulated to mislead.